A relatively robust variety with a history dating back to the early fifteenth century, Riesling is heralded as a wonderful conduit of terroir. Its resistance to frost makes it perfect for cooler climates and its small, tightly bunched grapes are conducive to developing Botrytis cinerea - commonly known as noble rot. This fungus dries the grapes out on the vine and subsequently concentrates their sugars, leading to wines that offer rich and complex layers on the palate. However, whilst Riesling is renowned for producing some of the world’s best - and most expensive - sweet wines, the majority of varietals are in fact dry.
Originating in Germany, today Riesling is the jewel of the nation’s wine industry. Constituting just one fifth of the country’s plantings, the variety is nonetheless responsible for almost all of its finest wines. Riesling thrives on the steep, slate-rich slopes that trace the path of the Rhine river, delivering crisp, strikingly aromatic wines with a brisk acidity and superb potential to age.
Riesling is also an important grape in Alsace - its only French stronghold - where it produces dry, steely, earthier wines with fuller body. The variety is also prevalent in parts of Austria and Northern Italy as well as a number of new world wine nations including the United States, New Zealand and the Clare Valley region of Australia. Furthermore, it is one of the main varieties used in Canada’s famous ice wines.
Along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling is undoubtedly one of the world’s great white wine grapes, and yet it retains a certain enigmatic quality even to those within the industry. However, having spent the latter years of the twentieth-century on the sidelines, Riesling - with its perfect balance of fruit and acidity - is well and truly back where it belongs.